C/O Andrew Mrozowski

Lack of action from the university prompts MacDivest to initiate a climate strike 

By: Sofia Gilbert, News Contributor   

On March 25, students and faculty at McMaster University walked out of class to join a school-wide walkout. The event took place outside University Hall and was organized by MacDivest, a student-led activism group that has been targeting the university’s unsustainable investments for nearly two years.  

The walkout was the conclusion to a 25-day social media campaign run by MacDivest, intended to draw awareness to the university’s lack of progress towards divesting from the fossil fuel industry. 

As climate change becomes irreversible, there have been increasing calls around the world for large institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuels accounted for 89 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018 and divestment presents a powerful solution to the problem of climate change. 

Student-led divestment-campaigns are prominent on most university campuses in Canada and since 2019, 11 major universities, including the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, have committed to divestment.  

However, McMaster has yet to make actionable changes towards divesting from the fossil fuel industry. 

On March 4, 2021, McMaster president David Farrar released an announcement saying the university will commit to divestment. Yet, the university has not taken any action to divest since then. 

McMaster still has around $22 million directly invested in fossil fuel companies, despite the university advocating for and publicly committing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

“The university is trying [to become more environmental] on some fronts, but they are badly failing on others,” said James Quinn, a professor in the biology department.  

According to MyMoon Bhuiyan, a project coordinator at MacDivest, the group is not satisfied with the university’s progress and they are tired of being ignored by the Board of Governors.  

As a top university in Canada and a leading research institution committed to global well-being and sustainability, McMaster has, through divesting, the power to make an influential statement. 

“If McMaster makes a statement saying we have divested from fossil fuels, it means something . . . We have the institutional power to influence others,” said Bhuiyan.  

Inhibiting the project, MacDivest suggests, is McMaster’s BoG, the governing body that oversees McMaster’s investment portfolio.  

MacDivest points out that of the 34 members in the BoG, only eight are elected by McMaster students and faculty. The other 26 members are either elected or appointed by the BoG itself. According to MacDivest, the majority of the members not elected by the McMaster community are corporate executives or members of corporate boards with ties to the energy, defense, finance and pharmaceutical industries. For example, the chair of the BoG, Bradley Merkel, has worked for over 10 years as an executive in the oil Industry. 

Students hope to see more transparency from the university, but unfortunately, the BoG has been opaque in revealing any progress being made towards the goal of divestment. 

“They decide to run McMaster like a business, rather than what it should be, which is a public good,” said master’s student Evan Ubene.   

MacDivest has received a large amount of support from students, faculty and administrators as they plan to continue their work around campus. Upcoming projects for the group, to which all are welcome to join, include launching formal legal complaints, planning grassroots protests and promoting their alumni non-donation campaign which has already received $30,000 in committed revoked donations. 

One current project targets the planned construction of a fracked fossil fuel power plant the administration plans to build on campus. MacDivest has been very vocal about their objection to this project as it will contribute to negative consequences such as fossil fuel omission, greenhouse gas emission and water pollution.  

The purpose of divestment lies in the stigmatization of the fossil fuel industry, the strengthening of social movements and increasing political pressure on governments to pass restrictive legislation. Divestment for McMaster, then, is not an economic act, but a social and political statement, one that students are still waiting for the university to make.   

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